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A not-so-new leadership development policy

Saturday, August 06, 2016

IBEC Board of Directors member, Dave Kier, writes a daily devotional for his family, employees and others. I am fortunate to know him and to read his daily thoughts. He gave permission to reproduce this one from July 17, 2016.

“Now it shall come about when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests.” Deuteronomy 17:18 NASB®

I think I will institute a new company policy. Before a new leader starts work, he or she must go to a remote cabin along a lake where there is no internet nor television. Only a simple cell phone, not a smart phone, can be taken along with the Bible and a hand full of pencils and tablets. No computer. They will have two weeks to write out the first five books of the Bible and the four gospels. At the end of two weeks, I will go and meet with them to see what they learned about leadership and try to answer any questions. After all, leadership is rooted in God’s spoken word written for us.

This exercise would reveal many things about a person. I would learn if they are disciplined enough to follow through. I would learn if they are learners or if they are the type that go through the motions. I would determine if they are humble, willing to submit to the authority of God’s word. I would learn if they can submit to my authority. They in turn, would learn more than $200,000 of college education could ever teach. I would have a true leader and they would be a better person. There’s no downside to this policy.

This is what each king assuming the throne in Israel was to do, except they only had the writings of Moses to copy. God knew that when a king had to write with his own hand His law, it would mean more to him. God knew that man can take the easy way out so he was to write it in the presence of a priest who was also to explain the difficult portions. We don’t read which kings followed the policy but we sure know which ones didn’t even try. By the time the kingdom was about to be devoured by Assyria and then Babylon, the written word of the Lord couldn’t even be found, which was why they were in dire straits.

I am not much of a policy wonk but this sounds like a very good one. I guess I would have to set the example wouldn’t I?

“Lord, Your word is powerful, sharper than any two edged sword. Your word contains the pathway to life. Your word is truth! How thankful we are that You graced us with Your spoken word written and preserved for us through the ages. Your blessings never end and we thank You. Amen”

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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A crisis of trust – guidelines for BAM owners (Part 2)

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Trust. Last week we looked at three concrete actions that business leaders can take to build trust within their organizations [A crisis of trust – guidelines for BAM owners (Part 1)]. We also looked at examples of Business As Missions (BAM) business owners I’ve worked with who applied these trust building behaviors in their companies:

1. Tell the truth and live with integrity.
2. Demonstrate competence.
3. Value people by showing that you care about them.

This week we explore three more trust building actions that result in improved business results AND Kingdom building results:

4. Demonstrate dependability and reliability.
5. Address issues directly.
6. Deliver the unexpected.

4. Demonstrate dependability and reliability.

One develops trust by being consistent, predictable, and keeping your word. Don’t be afraid to state expectations up front such as establishing policies and procedures and then following through on enforcement. If people see that they can count on you to be dependable in small things, they will trust you for the big things. “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” Luke 16:10.

One way to be consistent is to daily ask oneself if I “walk the talk” and ask others if they see you as one who “walks the talk”. Am I an example of the vision and values of the organization? It is a trust buster to say one thing and do another. This also means being accountable for actions and being responsive to the needs of others.

Joe and Kay made it a priority to live out the values of their company. They demonstrated in a reliable, consistent manner what it meant to follow Jesus’ principles and the employees saw that they “walked the talk”. When we interviewed several employees (there are 65 in total) they all stated that they loved working at the for-profit ABC English School in Asia and most had come to be disciples of Jesus.

5. Address issues directly.

There is no substitute for resolving issues head on by listening to all members in the controversy and expanding people’s involvement in the resolution process. Trust and loyalty is built when the boss addresses complaints fast, listens to everyone, and asks for their input.

The same principle holds true for customers who will learn to trust the company if complaints are addressed, information is shared and they feel they are well cared for. If a mistake has been made, admit it and provide an apology and thus restore the trust needed for a good relationship. Leaders who admit mistakes when they are wrong are not seen as weak – they are seen as being trustworthy.

Dale has developed a credible coffee outlet in Nepal because his credibility is well developed and proven. He has studied business (MBA), has become accomplished in understanding and valuing the culture and is an expert in coffee roasting and retail. In areas where he was weaker, he hired people to help him. Dale has developed competence which is widely recognized.

6. Deliver the unexpected.

One of the best ways to deliver trust is to surprise and delight customers, clients and employees. Deliver more that was promised – more service, more time, more convenience. This adds value and trust; it creates a feeling of goodwill and attracts people to the business and a sense of solidarity in the employees.

When I asked the employees of boat-builder Rob in Indonesia what they liked about working for Rob, they talked about the camping trips they did on nearby islands and how much they were appreciated. This unexpected employee “perk” created such good will that both retention and productivity increased but perhaps more importantly, it created opportunity for significant conversations about life issues.

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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A crisis of trust – guidelines for BAM owners (Part 1)

Saturday, July 23, 2016

“To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved.” – George MacDonald

In early 2016 I picked up a copy of the The Economist, entitled “The World in 2016”. An article on page 90 intrigued me entitled, “A Crisis of Trust” by Richard Eldelman.1 Mr. Edelman maintains that “trust – or, often, the lack of it – is one of the central issues of our time”. He may be right.

The Edelman Trust Barometer has been tracking trust issues for fifteen years, particularly between countries in the categories of government, business, technology, media, and NGOs. Technology is the most trusted sector and government is the least trusted institution worldwide. While trust in business is recovering, trust in CEOs has declined by ten points since 2011.

A recent Maritz poll2 indicates that only seven percent of workers strongly agree that they trust their senior leaders to look out for their best interest. John Blanchard’s research demonstrates that 59% of respondents indicated they had left an organization due to trust issues, citing lack of communication and dishonesty as key contributing factors.3 Clearly everywhere and in every sector, trust is at a tipping point.

All of this got me thinking about missional business startups. Certainly trust is fragile – in all aspects of life, and also in business. It is imperative for clients, customers, employees and team members to trust the owner because it is often easier to mistrust than to trust. What can a business owner do to develop high levels of trust?

The simplest understanding of trust is that it centers in competence and character. If owners and managers are competent in their knowledge, practice, and in getting things done; and they are persons of integrity, reliability and promise, they are probably a person of trust.

Perhaps the following concrete actions will go a long way to building trust in the business environment.

1. Tell the truth and live with integrity

Study after study has indicated that the number one quality that people want in a leader is integrity. Business leaders need to tell it straight, be open and honest inside and outside the company. The Biblical Decalogue (The Ten Commandments) makes it clear that we are not be bear false witness. Zechariah states in 8:16, "These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace."

People need to be treated appropriately and justly and management’s actions must be consistent with the values of the company so that employees and all others can see that they can rely on the leader.

We live in a time where moral standards are being eroded, even among good Christian people. It is mandatory that our character is built upon a foundation of integrity and a commitment to spiritual development.

Sometimes this is difficult to do in a corrupt society where all around we see dishonesty, deceit and corruption. We helped Jim buy a small factory in Indonesia. One of the consultants went with him to the tax office where they revealed that they wanted to discuss ahead of time what taxes might look like for certain levels of revenue. The tax authority had never heard of such a question and developed a respect for Jim from that day forward.

2. Demonstrate competence

Competence goes a long way toward producing credibility which is foundational to trust. Can you produce results? Can you get the job done because you have the skills to make things happen? Does your product go out the door with excellence? Competence involves the technical knowledge of what the product or service entails, the operational capacity to practically get it done, and the political understanding to accomplish things in the context of the culture, organizational politics and local political milieu.

Sometimes competence is simply a formidable expertise, but sometimes it may require you to say, “I don’t know”. That demonstrates knowledge of what you do not know and allows trust to develop as you recommend another source for the client.

Dale has developed a credible coffee outlet in Nepal because his credibility is well developed and proven. He has studied business (MBA), has become accomplished in understanding and valuing the culture and is an expert in coffee roasting and retail. In areas where he was weaker, he hired people to help him. Dale has developed competence which is widely recognized.

3. Value people by showing that you care about them

People will trust you if you value them, get to know them by identifying their needs and seek to empower them in the workplace. This includes having good communication skills and showing that you are human by being open with your life. The leader then is seen as a “real” person.

One of the best ways to build trust is by sharing information so as to allow them into the inner workings of the business as much as possible. Discussion of important marketing topics, future business plans and strategies, financial data, performance feedback, current problems – all communicates trust and a sense that “we are in this together”. By giving a sense of identity to everyone, trust develops, productivity increases, morale develops, and teamwork solidifies.

The Second Commandment of Jesus mandates love as important in relationships with others. In fact Jesus said that love for God and our neighbor are the two most important things (Mark 12:31). That includes learning to listen more effectively, using names in conversation and telling people what you appreciate about them. One of the ways I found to demonstrate this was to be accessible, allowing people to come to my office just about any time.

People are valued when you respect their time. Start meetings on time, promptly return phone calls and reply to emails. Thoroughly address all points raise in communiques. Provide feedback regularly.

What does this look like in a cross-cultural startup? For Bill it simply meant that he learned to ask about the families of the employees. That simple act of love and care caused him to be called the “best boss in all of China” by one of his foremen.

Come back next week for three more actions you can take to build trust in your environment.

1. Edelman, Richard. "A Crisis of Trust." The Economist. March 13, 2016. Page 90.
2. Managing in an Era of Mistrust: Maritz Poll Reveals Employees Lack Trust in their Workplace. Available online at:

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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The desire to make a difference

Sunday, July 17, 2016

I had just landed in Africa the night before, and although I had gone nearly 24 hours without sleep, I felt alive as we began our first day just outside the city of Nairobi. The energy level I felt as I got up and looked across the mist rising above the grassy plains seemed to inject my body with an adrenaline level that could only be explained by God's sovereign grace and His desire to expose me to a world I had never seen before.As our jeep bounced along the dirt roads outside the city, the beauty of Africa was something I cannot even begin to explain.

I was there for a reason

We made our way through numerous villages that led to our final destination, each of them resembling a lifestyle that made me feel guilty for what I had left back in the states. Small, dilapidated shacks were scattered along the roadside, as children played in front of these structures they called "home". None of us in the jeep said a whole lot as we made our way to our journey's end, but I believe we were all thinking the same thing. How could these children be so happy when they had nothing like what we had grown accustomed to? Something in their smiles reminded me that Jesus was alive, and that His expectation of me on this day was to spread His Word through the gifts He had given me. I was there for a reason...

After about 30 minutes along the last winding road, we made our way to the final destination. I was part of a team that would focus on helping our partners create a sustainable business, with a desire to ultimately spread the Word of Jesus Christ through the creation of jobs.

Over the next several hours, I became connected with the family and this amazing ministry. Their joy resonated throughout the village, and their desire to learn from us was truly a breath of fresh air. Together, we began to focus on a plan that they have subsequently implemented...and they are doing an amazing job!

From the time I met with them, I felt like I was an extension of their ministry and not an "outsider" riding in on a white horse trying to fix things. Similar to our other ministry partners, I had an incredible passion to want to help them and somehow give back.

Business as Mission had hooked me

It didn't take long for me to realize that in the end, I was the one who was being blessed. Business as Mission had hooked me because I saw firsthand the impact it can have for God's Kingdom. Needless to say, my passion to help our ministry partners was stronger than ever was the least I could do.

I believe God has given each of us individual gifts that we must use for His Kingdom, and that His expectation is for us to integrate our faith into everything we do. What a privilege it is to be serving Him this way. The best way I can explain my role in Business as Mission is it represents a way for me to somehow give back. Providing hope and encouragement for those less fortunate is our mission. By representing Jesus through our actions, and not just our words, I have no doubt in my mind that others will follow. To build His Kingdom...this is why we do what we do.

Bob Bush, Managing Director, IBEC Ventures

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BAM startup team essentials

Monday, July 11, 2016

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” - Henry Ford

Well known Italian entrepreneur, Ernesto Sirolli, stated in a TED Talk that nothing is ever built by just one person. God has never created anyone who can “…make it, sell it, and keep track of the money.” His point is that it takes a team!

I try to make a habit of looking for models in real life and this was illustrated recently when staying with my wife in the hospital while she was recovering from a hip replacement surgery. People came in and out of the room – each with their unique role and purpose.

I expected the primary surgeon, and a nurse or two; but the team caring for my wife included an RN, an LPN, a Physicians’ Assistant, a Physical Therapist, Occupational Therapist, a case manager, a clinical supervisor, housekeeping, two food service people, a chaplain … and I then lost count. Each regularly rotated in and out of the room; each with a job to do – all focused on the well-being of the patient – my dear wife.

The experience made me reflect on how a business develops from a problem to be solved or a customer to be served. Lean startup gurus Marc Nager, Clint Nelson, and Franck Nouyrigat suggest that while ideas are important, TEAM is essential.1 So what does that mean for Business as Mission (BAM) startups or for businesses attempting to scale?

What does a team look like?

A growing body of research supports the idea that investors prefer to invest in teams. History reminds us that even the “greats” such as ark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Phil Knight did not accomplish greatness alone.

A team provides the diverse capabilities and social networks important to critical customers, resources and talent, and eventual buyers for the company. The relevant components of any discussion on teams are much more complex than what one simple blog can explore. But for starters let’s look at who should be on the BAM startup team.

Team builders face many difficult questions such as: should I have a highly diverse team very different from me, or a team that is more like me in values and skills? Should I bring on people I know so that I start with high levels of trust?

9 guidelines for a BAM startup team

No founding team is perfect, but recent literature2 suggests some general guidelines:

1. Common vision: The lead entrepreneur and the team must share the same vision for the venture.

2. Common passion: Team members must be passionate about the business concept and work as hard as the lead entrepreneur to help make it happen.

3. Industry experience: At least one of the team members must have experience in the industry in which the venture is being launched.

4. Concept testing and contacts: There must be significant research and testing of the concept and then solid industry contacts.

5. Access to capital: Research and consulting help must surface appropriate sources of capital, backed up by a good credit rating for the team members.

6. Functional expertise: The team’s expertise must at least cover key functional areas such as operations, management, finance, marketing, product understanding.

7. Long haul fortitude: The team must have the time to spend on the demands of the startup and be able to endure the financial constraints of a typical startup.

I would also add these two in light of the additional demands on a BAM startup:

8. Culture and language: Many of the team members must have understanding and appreciation of the culture and language of the host nation.

9. Missional focus: All team members must understand, support and promote the missional component of an integrated enterprise.

As I review the various projects I have observed over the years, I think that many BAM endeavors lack one or more of these. I wonder whether the lack of one or more of these will result in certain failure. I wonder why most businesses do not have all nine of these items and what will it take to improve the startup preparation for BAM teams.

1 Nager, Marc; Nelson, Clint; and Nouyrigat, Franck. Startup Weekend. 2012. Page 126.

2 Allen, Kathleen R.  Launching New Ventures – An Entrepreneurial Approach. Cengage Learning, Boston: 2016. Page 176.

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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7 ways to know a BAMer (and a cowboy) is for real

Monday, July 04, 2016

In early June each year the rodeo season in Oregon kicks off with the Sisters Rodeo. Four hundred cowboys drive into town with their horse trailers and teammates and compete for the prize money of champion calf roping, steer wrestling, bronco riding, bull riding and similar high risk activities.

And many would-be cowboys also ride into town in high priced motor homes, or luxury vehicles parked at 4-star hotels. These also walk around with classy cowboy boots, buckles and cool hats. How does one know the real cowboy from these dudes strolling down main street looking for a place for a $40 steak?

I was a cowboy for a weekend – twice! I guess I am a slow learner because I did not pass the test – the test of a real cowboy. Sure I can ride a horse and stay on one without fear but it is so much more. I grew up loving the old cowboy songs like, El Paso, Ghost Riders in the Sky, Amarillo by Morning, and Cool Water. But that never made me a cowboy.

What marks a real cowboy?

What is a real cowboy? Is it the hat? Is it the boots and wranglers? Is it the Skol stuffed into the lower jaw? Maybe it is the horse or the chaps or the rope? Maybe the saddle, the spurs or the horse trailer?

No, the test of a real cowboy is on the ranch of real-life activities or in the arena in front of 8,000 people living up to the expectations of the ride, or the rope. The key questions are: can he stay on any animal, no matter how wild? Can he use a rope to bring in a ‘dogie’? Can he mark a horse out of the chute? And can he wrestle a half ton steer to the ground? Can he actually do it? He is a real cowboy because he can do those things.

What marks a real BAMer?

What about Business as Mission (BAM)? ‘BAMer’ is a term often used to describe a person operating a Kingdom business in another country in another culture and language. What can he or she do? What are the behaviors and actions and activities which indicate this person might be for real?

A BAMer is a person with the requisite Competence, Character, Commitment and Charisma1 (these are topics for another article), but what then are the activities they demonstrate? What can they do?

1. Spirituality: A BAMer has a robust theology of work with an understanding that marketplace activity is worship; their business is ministry no less than any other ministry. He demonstrates this in his walk with God both in private and at work. He has a vital devotional life of study of the Word and in prayer. He treats business activity as a spiritual activity.

Kirk Parette, manager of Barrington Gifts in Asia says “every day on the factory floor is an opportunity for discipleship”. On a daily basis he integrates a life of faith and following Jesus with the work of the business, and employees see that in everyday business and life.

2. Cultural understanding and appreciation: A BAMer respects culture and is a student of it for his lifetime.He is constantly growing in the language, listening for cultural nuances and loving people within the culture. He is continually curious and the nationals notice and value it. They have friends in both the national and expat community.

That is true for Rob and his family in Indonesia. They work hard at speaking the language well, respect the culture and the employees “love working for Rob” because he values them, does things with them outside of work hours, and treats them fairly.

3. GRIT: GRIT is - Guts, Resilience, Initiative, Tenacity. He does not give up and works hard to accomplish the vision and realize the potential of his God-given wiring and the opportunities of the business.

That has certainly been true of Lee who started a business in a former Soviet republic and before long his partner had stolen his assets and left him penniless. I called him and asked him what he was going to do now. He readily responded by saying, “I have gone down the street and have opened a new office and started over.” Lee had grit.

4. Team orientation: A BAMer realizes that no person can do everything herself. As entrepreneur Ernesto Sirolli affirms, “this world has never seen a person who can make it, sell it, and keep track of the money”. A good entrepreneur understands this. And good BAMers understand this and develop team members who have the varied skills of production, management, marketing, accounting, financial management etc.

Britanny understood that as she and others started Baku Roasting Company. She brought coffee production skills to the table but she surrounded herself with capital developers, managers, operational people, marketers, HR experts, an accountant and legal advice. The result – two stores in that city totally independent and sustainable.

5. Tolerance for risk: Risk is a quality of entrepreneurs, but business developers also are generally not risk averse. There are so many uncertainties to living and working in corrupt and politically unstable countries that a high tolerance of risk is mandatory. This is so true for a Jesus-follower since religious intolerance is a concern worldwide. So much of risk management is to mitigate it, but sometimes one needs to realize that to “carry our cross” is a daily necessity.

For Dave and Susie in the Balkans, a tolerance for risk became mandatory when they experienced political, religious and economic conditions destroy their first agribusiness. They continued on, learning tolerance for the cultural, economic and political irregularities and making friends with local Muslim religious and political leaders in the city.

6. Servant Leadership skills: First and foremost a BAM leader is a servant as modeled by Jesus. While serving others, the leader respects the management skills, financial expertise and production abilities of all team members. He is there to help employees and team members develop, grow and serve. The org chart has the servant leader at the bottom, serving all others to the “greater glory of God.”

That is certainly true of Bill who was called by an employee, “the best boss in all of China” simply because he cared for her family, and loved them as a servant.

7. Long haul mentality: A BAMer knows that he or she must be a life-long learner, must stay until God makes it clear that it is time to depart. This is not a short-term assignment, but a commitment which can be demonstrated over enough time to see the results of the quadruple bottom line: profitability/sustainability; SME job creation; spiritual and social transformation; and stewardship of creation.

Ryan and Jana started ABC English School and stayed long enough to see a profitable business emerge, job creation for 65 employees and lives transformed as they became disciples of Jesus. Without that long-term commitment, it is doubtful that success would have followed them.

These are just some of the things which show the world that a BAMer is for real. He or she is doing these things. They demonstrate spirituality, the value of culture and servant leadership. Everyone can see their grit and tolerance for risk and that they are in it for the long haul. They show a team orientation. Such a BAMer is a real cowboy – a real BAMer!

1 Charisma is defined by Peter Shaukat to mean the “stirring up” of God-given gifts.

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Jump off the donkey!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Some years ago two IBEC consultants and I were consulting with several businesses in Kazakhstan. One business asked two of our guys Ken Leahy and Rick Hamm (both former senior executives of Fortune 500 companies) to provide some training on relationship marketing and on mentoring.

That business is Gateway Ventures.  Their story is simply amazing and contains many of the elements of how God and his servants work to bring the Quadruple Bottom Line to the ends of the earth. Thanks to Jo Plummer, editor of the BAM Review, for writing this story in 2014 and recently republishing it as part of their 'BAM is Global: Around the World in 40 Days' series. Here's the story in its entirety or visit the Business As Mission website for the original, The Extraordinary Story of Gateway Ventures: From India to Kazakhstan.

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

The Extraordinary Story of Gateway Ventures: From India to Kazakhstan

By Jo Plummer, Business As Mission

Daniel Gunaseelan has a very colourful story indeed. Starting in a tiny village of 100 houses in his native Tamil Nadu, a state on the southern tip of India, Daniel’s story stretches all the way to a multi-million dollar company in the oil and gas industry in Kazakhstan. On the way he tells of false starts and successes, of making and losing his fortune and of a business breakthrough in a blizzard. At every turn, one theme stands out. It is very well summed up by the verse in Psalm 119, ‘’Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path’’. Daniel’s story is about the extraordinary impact we can have for Christ in business as we are faithful to follow Him. As Daniel puts it, ‘As we are prepared to make Jesus our CEO, our boss, He can bring fruitfulness far beyond what we can imagine.’

The Call

To Daniel’s father living in a tiny village in South India, Christianity was just another foreign religion. He came from a very traditional Hindu family of priests, but he heard about Jesus at college and was saved. It was a radical conversion and Daniel’s father became an evangelist and church planter all over rural India.

While Daniel was being born his father was praying and God gave him a vision. In the picture he saw the biblical Daniel praying in the lions’ den. Just as Daniel was born, his father shouted out a prayer that his new son would be called Daniel and would become a missionary to the communist ‘lions’ of the Soviet Union. ‘I knew from early on that I was called to be a missionary to Russia,’ Daniel jokes, ‘but to me it seemed whenever I was a really naughty boy, my father would pray that prayer over me again, but extra loudly!’

In school, the routine question, ‘What do you want to become after your studies?’ always gave Daniel a dilemma. ‘It killed me to have to answer that,’ he recalls, ‘I knew that being a missionary was in my blood, it was my calling, but at that time I was away from God. Instead I used to say that I wanted to become a businessman and then I would sit down quickly!’

Closing Doors

In 1985, at the age of 17, Daniel became a Christian, dedicated his life back to God and began to focus on his missionary call once more. However, Daniel often struggled with his father’s vision, ‘I was living in a very needy country, I was involved in student ministry and I often wondered why I needed to go somewhere else’, he says. Then in 1989, during a prayer time, the Holy Spirit spoke to him from Genesis 12 v 1 “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” Daniel felt God speak to him that India had been a recipient of the gospel for generations, that giving is more blessed than receiving and that he must go.

The vision looked like it might become a reality in 1991. Daniel had just completed a Masters degree in Russian Language and Economics at the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, when he got the chance to go as a PhD student to the Moscow State University. However, the opportunity never materialized, the Soviet Union was collapsing and the doors for him to go as a student began to close. Finally, when there was no hope of going to Russia as a student, Daniel began his PhD studies at the JNU in Delhi and the dream of getting to the Soviet Union felt distant.

Jump off the Donkey!

In 1993 God started speaking to Daniel again about his calling, reminding him that he would be a blessing to the nations. Shortly after that, Daniel got a job in the 3rd largest company in India, the Thapar Group. His job was in overseas business development and required him to travel into the ex-Soviet countries. ‘It was an extraordinary time’, shares Daniel, ‘I was traveling all over the former Soviet Union for 15-20 days out of each month. It gave me a great exposure to all sorts of people and experiences. I traveled extensively and met many top business and political leaders.’

Daniel was able to start a student ministry out of his excess income and spent over 3 years in that job. In 1995 his directors wanted to send him to manage a new project in Africa. However, it was at that time God clearly spoke to Daniel about taking the unexpected step of leaving that company. Daniel shares, ‘I felt I should stick with the area that I was called to, the former Soviet countries. God gave me a vision of myself riding a donkey and told me I needed to jump off that donkey because instead he wanted to give me a horse!’

Running Away?

Daniel gave in his notice and left the company on a Friday. On Saturday someone called to offer him a job in another business. He accepted the new job which involved a posting in Kazakhstan to do project appraisals and financing. Once again this new position was an opportunity for Daniel to learn more about business, but he was still uneasy. ‘I was running cell groups three times a week in the office, actually in the board room of the company. But even so, in the back of my mind I kept thinking I was wasting my time doing business. I felt I was running away, wasting time in the marketplace doing only a little Kingdom work,’ says Daniel. This message, that only traditional church work was ‘true ministry’, was the established way of thinking in the church in India and therefore was part of Daniel’s worldview. This was only reinforced again when in 1997, he felt he should finally commit his life and become a staff member of his church in Kazakhstan. Many people congratulated him on his decision to pursue his ‘real’ calling to ministry.

New Vision, New Ventures

However, it was about that same time that God started speaking to Daniel in a new way. Three times, from three different sources, Daniel received the verse in Micah 4:13, “I will give you hooves of bronze, and you will break to pieces many nations. You will devote their ill-gotten gains to the LORD, their wealth to the Lord of all the earth.” Another word came that God was about to do something interesting and big in Daniel’s life. It was then that Daniel met a pastor from Singapore who challenged him and encouraged him in his calling to the marketplace.

The connection with the Singaporean pastor turned out to be a crucial relationship. Essentially God had given a group of pastors a vision in the early 1980s to start a cell church movement. They had been teaching about cell church principles in parts of Central Asia, but in order to be able to do so had started up a business in Kazakhstan.

Daniel was invited to join the Board of that business and began looking for opportunities to make some money to support himself. His first business venture was importing containers of tea from India, since he had lots of friends who could supply tea. That business took off, as Daniel explains. ‘We made a lot of money importing tea, we did that for a year or so in 1998 and 1999 and it was a great business’. In the summer of 1999 Daniel returned to India to get married to his wife Sarah. Riding high on a wave of success and at the beginning of his married life, he returned to Kazakhstan with his new bride.

Just one month later, in June of 1999, the currency of Kazakhstan devalued by 50% and there was an economic crisis in the country. Daniel was selling his tea in the local currency which suddenly was not worth very much. His supplier trusted him and had extended credit to him, but when it came time for Daniel to pay up, he couldn’t. Daniel’s once thriving tea importing business was suddenly bankrupt. To add insult to injury, one week later the company was robbed. Daniel recalls, ‘Everything we had built up was gone. Our office was cleaned out. I went into work one day to find that everything had been taken, computers, equipment, even our documents, gone. All we had left was our car and then the following week the driver ran away with that.’ It was not an ideal start to married life!

Rock Bottom

Daniel was at the end of himself, not knowing what to do. The church in Singapore invited him to visit for a week so that they could pray for him. When he met them, he confessed, ‘I’ve lost everything’. Their response was to comfort and challenge him, ‘Who told you you have lost everything? You haven’t lost us and we haven’t lost you!’ Daniel didn’t feel worthy to be up in front of anybody, but the 12,000 strong congregation in Singapore prayed for him on stage in their church service and re-commissioned him in his call to the marketplace. The group of pastors eventually offered to raise half a million US dollars to cover the debt that the business owed and another half a million dollars to start up the business again. Daniel did not accept the money. He explains, ‘I felt the verse in Micah was a promise that we would take the ill-gotten wealth of the nations from the world and bring it into the Kingdom, not the other way around!’

Nothing to Lose

What followed were two very hard years for Daniel and Sarah as they began to look for new business opportunities. Towards the end of 2000 someone gave Daniel a printed catalogue and CD-ROM of household and electrical products. He explains, ‘I had this catalogue, it had 165,000 products in it, anything and everything that could possibly be needed by a business. I heard about a big oil and gas project in western Kazakhstan and thought I could relaunch my business by supplying products to them’. Feeling like there might be an opportunity in the oil and gas fields in the west of the country, Daniel and a couple of friends decided to go and try to make some sales. However, western Kazakhstan was a US$500 plane ride away and they did not have the money to go. Instead they opted to take a $40 train and they set off with hope and just one lead.

The train journey to the oil and gas fields took 72 hours and they arrived at their destination, an isolated town, at 7:30 pm in the middle of a blizzard. A friend had told them to go to a particular office and they would be taken care of, but when they arrived it was deserted. The only available accommodation in the town was in the camp for the oil field workers. When they asked for a room to stay the night, the camp manager relented but warned them that they could stay for one night only.

The next morning, with nothing to lose, Daniel and his friends set off to try and sell some products. ‘We only had the catalogue and the CD-ROM, so we split up. Somehow my friends got the nice, thick, printed catalogue and I got the CD!’ Daniel recalls, ‘I called it my “magic CD”, you put it into a computer and it loaded up with 165,000 possible products to sell. I toured round the different company offices telling them that we could supply whatever they wanted. I was willing to make a fool of myself to sell something. I prayed for favour and got the sense that I should let nothing stop me.’ The group agreed that if they stayed out late, the camp manager would be forced to let them stay one more night.

However, Daniel’s confidence was sorely tested when at 7:30 pm that evening the three friends regrouped and not one of them had managed to sell a single product. To top it all as they approached the camp, they saw something familiar lying in the street. The camp manager had packed their bags himself and had thrown them out into the snow. He greeted them with a none too welcome, ‘Get the hell out of this place!’

The situation did not look hopeful, and with nowhere to stay for the night the group had no choice but make the return journey empty handed. Just as they were loading their cases into a minibus, a man who Daniel had seen earlier walked by. He exclaimed, ‘Are you still here?!’ and suggested they try the company with offices just next to the camp. Daniel by this stage was sick and tired of trudging around in the snow, but the man said, ‘Why don’t you go in and make a fool of yourself one more time!’ With nothing to lose and his magic CD in hand, he ventured into this company office in a last ditch attempt to sell something.

Breakthrough in a Blizzard

It was late in the evening and the only person still in the premises was one guy all alone in a big room. Not knowing who this might be, Daniel nevertheless gave it his best shot. ‘I stood there and in 15 minutes gave what I thought was quite a good presentation, telling the guy that we could be his “one-stop solution” for all his required supplies’. After Daniel had finished, the stranger was quiet for a moment and when he finally spoke, it did not seem encouraging. ‘Tell me the truth’, he directed at Daniel, ‘you don’t know anything do you?’

With hope crumbling and at the end of himself, Daniel poured out his whole story, right from losing all his money selling tea to finding his bags sitting in the snow minutes before. The man took Daniel’s card, ‘For some reason I like you Daniel, so be faithful and I will build you up’. Daniel wondered who this man was who was offering to build him up. The man who had been the last one left at the office, was an Italian named Lorenzo. Lorenzo, it turned out, was the Director of Procurement for the top Italian oil and gas company in the world and was overseeing a 4.5 billion US dollar gas refinery project. He told Daniel that if he had come earlier in the day his staff would not have let him in. Daniel’s honesty paid off and 3 weeks later, Lorenzo called Daniel and placed his first order for US$2,450.

Growing as a Company

It was December 2000 and Daniel borrowed money here and there from friends to fulfill his first order. When he was faithful in meeting that commitment, the next ordered followed, this time for US$5000. Daniel kept trusting God as the business began to slowly grow and he could pay back his debts. The meeting with Lorenzo turned out to be the breakthrough that Daniel and the business, Gateway Ventures, needed. He explains, ‘After that and for the last 10 years and more, Lorenzo has worked exclusively with us. Not only that, everyone he has met in the industry he has told, “Work with Daniel, make him your supplier”. It was in that way that God blessed us and built us up as a company’.

Daniel had earned Lorenzo’s trust and over the years they developed a strong friendship. ‘Lorenzo would always make fun of my faith’, shares Daniel, ‘but he liked me’. When Lorenzo ended up in the Intensive Care Unit after a heart attack in 2005, he realised he could die at any moment. It was in his time of crisis that Lorenzo called Daniel and, revealing the level of trust he had in their relationship, he charged him, ‘If anything should happen to me, please take care of my family’. It was an extraordinary moment for Daniel, but full of faith he responded, ‘It is now time for me to bless you, I am going to pray for God to heal you!’

Lorenzo was restored to health and and over the years through that relationship Lorenzo and his whole family came to believe in Christ. On a visit to the city in Kazakhstan where Daniel and Sarah live, Lorenzo told a group of successful businessmen, ‘Listen to me, this guy Daniel told me how to believe in Jesus, go and visit his church because God is there!’

Gateway Ventures Today

Today Gateway Ventures is one of the leading service providers to the oil and gas industry, located in 25 countries worldwide, across 4 continents. Gateway employs almost 700 people and has it’s own engineering team and a fabrication yard.

Daniel reflects, ‘It is amazing what God can do through business. I have never pushed my colleagues, I have never even preached the gospel to them openly, but they know I trust God in every aspect of my business life’. Daniel shares that even the unbelievers in the company are used to miracles happening almost every day. When they went through a SWOT analysis as a company, “extraordinary favour” came out as a strength identified by the non-believing managers. ‘They tell me that it’s not a normal day unless some miracle happens!’ says Daniel. He adds, ‘I often say that as Christians in business we have an unfair advantage, it is not a level playing field when God is on our side!’

These days Gateway Ventures has grown so much that Daniel is largely freed up from the day to day operation of the company. ‘I spend all day talking to people about their personal problems. I find the Holy Spirit gives me wisdom as I talk to people. It’s easy to lead people to Jesus as we talk about real personal issues in the context of real life. Over the course of one year seven of my colleagues walked into my offices at various times and told me that they wanted to accept Jesus as their Saviour.’

Daniel has many stories to share of people he works with coming to Christ through his conversations and the things that God shows him as he prays for people. One day whilst having a serious business discussion with a long term colleague Daniel felt Lord telling him to stop the discussion and pray. ‘While I was praying, I felt I should stop praying and tell her that her heart was really hurting and that God wanted to heal it today. With my eyes still closed, I could hear the lady sobbing. She accepted Jesus then and there and today she is one of the leaders in the local church.’

Daniel reflects, ‘I feel like when you do business for the Kingdom it should be a fun process. It’s not about running after money, or grabbing power, it is about being an inheritor of God’s promises. Being in business gives you incredible access to every segment of society. As you take up this calling of God on your life, he will give you influence in the marketplace. In the process you end up being blessed so much and also being able to bless so many others along the way.’

Opening doors to BAM jobs, internships and connections

Sunday, June 19, 2016

As I travel around, teach in various colleges, and conduct seminars, I am often asked if I know of opportunities for getting involved in the BAM movement overseas with a job opportunity. It is a great question. There is nothing like seeing things first hand and being mentored by a BAM leader on site in their business.

BAM job and internship opportunities

Jo Plummer at Business as Mission does a great job with perhaps the best BAM website available today ( She often posts job opportunities as well as internship opportunities. Over the last several months there have been job and internship opportunities with BAM companies in China, Nepal, Cambodia, Vietnam as well as other Southeast Asian countries and the Middle East. These companies needed software developers, website designers, IT account managers, operations managers and managing directors in a variety of industries. Visit this page on the Business as Mission website to see current BAM company openings around the world:

BAM conferences

Another great way to connect with people in the Business as Mission movement is to invest the time and money to attend BAM conferences. Two important BAM conferences are coming up this fall:

  • BAM Conference 2016 - Los Angeles, CA - September 16-17, 2016: Where BAM Practioners, Mentors and Seekers Come Together
  • B4T Expo - Chicago, IL - October 13-15, 2016: Transforming Nations Through Business / Reaching the Unreached to Know and Love Jesus

IBEC will have representatives at both of these conferences so let me know ahead of time that you're coming or find us at the conference. We're always happy to connect with people exploring how their giftings and skills in business can be used for God's kingdom.

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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Reverse the view

Monday, June 13, 2016

In the IBEC blog of June 6 entitled "A Kingdom Business - what is it?" I used a Kingdom business coffee company to illustrate four core components of a Kingdom business.  The following is from Rick Buddemeier who serves as a cross-cultural analyst and trainer, helping IBEC business consultants and others to serve foreign companies effectively.  His comments are instructive for anyone working in OTHER cultures.

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

Reverse the view: the Other culture's point of view of the core 4 of Kingdom business

In an Other culture, to be respectable, business and work mirror the Other culture.

“The business itself is the ministry” - Larry Sharp

Four commonly defined characteristics of a Kingdom business were recently identified by Larry Sharp, what I'll call the Core 4. He writes:

"A Kingdom business can be defined in various ways. In a study I did several years ago, reviewing the primary authors defining these businesses (Baer, Rundle and Steffen, Eldred, Mulford, etc.), I discovered that every definition includes:
    1. Development of employees for their full potential; and provision of products or services which are a true benefit to their markets, treating all stakeholders with dignity and respect.
    2. A product or service that is offered with excellence.
    3. Profitability, but with a Christian ministry purpose equal or bigger than financial profit.
    4. Servant leadership that seeks to glorify Christ in all aspects of the business and seeks to help others to follow Jesus."

Key concepts from Sharp’s Core 4 through Other culture eyes: how would the Core 4 be understood by an Other culture?

Consider how these might be understood by people who live in Nepal, Senegal, Peru, Italy—or a culture familiar to you.


Here Sharp is talking about recognizing the image of God in every person. We Westerners, however, might confuse “respect” with counting all men as equal, a foreign concept in many Other cultures. If you are the boss there, it is unwise to pitch yourself as an equal or to treat workers as an equal class.

Employee potential

Westerners think future and see “potential.” What do Other culture workers value and expect of themselves as workers? What do local managers and supervisors expect? These are important questions about motivating employees in the Other culture.

A benefit to their markets

It’s not YOUR market! Some good ideas can create havoc in the Other culture. See my blog entry The Mango Mart Solar Cart BAM Bust.

Excellent service

Let’s not assume that Other culture peoples don’t know and have excellent service. It’s worth asking (not telling) what “excellent service” is. And, “What’s less than excellent service here?”

Financial profitability + Christian

What kind of purposes for business might believers in the Other culture perceive? It’s important for them to help us understand their business traditions. In Ghana, many in the Church have had a view of business as unspiritual. With that view (Don’t you wonder where it came from?) can generating a profit and making disciples go hand-in-hand?

Servant leadership

How is this understood in high power-distance cultures?

Aspects of the business

In many Other cultures, “aspects” will seamlessly include family and friend relationships.

Product or service

If you have spent time in non-Western cultures, you will recognize that “products and services” are an adjunct to RELATIONSHIPS, which is why Sharp chose to say “offered with excellence,” although even that may fall short of “offered to someone who knows you and someone you know and care about in general.”

A Kingdom business - what is it?

Monday, June 06, 2016

I dropped into my favorite local coffee company this morning and ordered a small coffee of the day – dark roast – and a bran muffin. The smell of roasting coffee drifted through the surrounding pines taking my mind off of the chill of the 40-degree morning. A 1951 restored Chevy pickup was pulled up in front of the front awning.

As I paid my bill and received the coveted coffee, I noticed the verse of the day boldly declaring its message on the wall for everyone to read, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10) This must be a Kingdom business.

But do Bible verses make a Kingdom business? What makes a Kingdom business? There are many technical definitions, but what interests me most are not the definitions or even the helpful instructive scriptures on the wall and the coffee cups. What interests me are the “good works” which God wants us to do. What does that look like at my local coffee company? How are they demonstrating the theory?

For starters, this place is spotlessly clean and well organized. A western theme dominates the atmosphere, from the music to the decorations of nature. There is plenty of room on two floors and on the outside verandas. A gigantic fireplace is an attraction during the winter months.

All the amenities for coffee are at your fingertips. The service is unparalleled as well-trained attendants serve quickly and joyfully and with competence. You can tell they love their jobs and they love the customers.

This local coffee company is committed to fair trade; they regularly visit the growers and seek to insure that fairness prevails in every step of the process, from planting to growing to processing, milling, exporting, roasting and brewing. Quality dominates the people, the process and the product. And the customer sees it at every turn.

A Kingdom business can be defined in various ways. In a study I did several years ago, reviewing the primary authors defining these businesses (Baer, Rundle and Steffen, Eldred, Mulford, etc.), I discovered that every definition includes:
  1. Development of employees for their full potential; and provision of products or services which are a true benefit to their markets, treating all stakeholders with dignity and respect.
  2. A product or service that is offered with excellence.
  3. Profitability, but with a Christian ministry purpose equal or bigger than financial profit.
  4. Servant leadership that seeks to glorify Christ in all aspects of the business and seeks to help others to follow Jesus.
This is not just theory; this is the real thing. This is living out the theory of Ephesians 2:10. It is doing “good works.” Another biblical author, James, in James 2:17 states,
“Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” All of this is something that can be replicated – not only around this country but also around the world in different cultures, social contexts and languages – in any business anywhere – for the greater glory of God.

Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures

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